‘Playing with Fire’ Burns the Truth

Filed in Codes and Regulations, Labor, Safety and Health by on December 4, 2015 7 Comments

firesprinklerNAHB will be responding aggressively to set the facts straight regarding the story “Playing with Fire” that appeared in the November 2015 issue of Builder Magazine and Builder Online.

The story misrepresents our industry stance on the fire safety issue and Builder erred when it claimed that it reached out to NAHB and that we declined to comment for the article. Builder never sought NAHB’s response concerning fire sprinklers, but only asked the association to comment on Western wildfires.

Moreover, at the same time that Builder is calling new homes less safe than those built a generation ago, advocating for more stringent fire codes and distorting the facts surrounding sprinkler mandates, it acknowledges that fire deaths fell 26% from 2002 to 2011. The article further skews the facts to fit a false narrative by making no attempt to break down the numbers between single-family and multifamily structures.

NAHB is now in contact with Builder and demanding that it run a correction. We will be sending their editors a detailed response that shines a spotlight on the article’s misrepresentations and distortions regarding the effectiveness – cost and otherwise – of fire sprinklers. We will also make it crystal clear where our industry stands on the issue of fire sprinklers and fire safety.

Here are just a few reasons why code officials and elected leaders have overwhelmingly rejected fire sprinkler mandates:

  • Sprinklers aren’t cost effective. The Fire Protection Research Foundation puts the average cost of a residential sprinkler system at $6,000. That’s not affordable to many families. In fact, just a $1,000 increase in home prices keeps more than 200,000 households out of the market.
  • Smoke alarms work. Sprinkler proponents say they have the numbers to prove their products work better – but those numbers are based largely on multifamily projects. Ensuring that every home had at least one working smoke alarm would save about 890 lives every year in our country. This would benefit everyone – not just those who can afford a new home.
  • Fires are more likely in older homes. Home fires are tragic. But building codes apply only to new homes. And in states where we can match the age of affected homes with standard national fire data, fatalities are heavily concentrated in older homes. To reduce fatalities, we need to make older homes safer: Working smoke alarms make a life-saving difference.
  • Newer homes are built to safer standards. According to the National Fire Protection Association’s Overview of the U.s. Fire Problem, the leading causes of unintentional home fires are cooking equipment, heating equipment and electrical distribution and lighting equipment. Newer homes are built to building codes explicitly designed to make homes safer and reduce the need for makeshift lighting and heating solutions.

Learn more at nahb.org/sprinklers.



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  1. NAHB Challenges BUILDER Magazine on Sprinkler Mandates | December 30, 2015
  1. John Bitely says:

    It isn’t just sprinkling. 2015 code requires special action when using I-joist in/over an unfinished basement. Ohio has had to deal with this headache for a year now and it has moved to Michigan. A number or other states are next.

  2. Mike McKay says:

    I noticed the article and also noticed ads by sprinkler companies. Didn’t read it and don’t plan to pull it out of the trash can now. I’m glad to see the NAHB responding to counter the bias in the article toward more restrictive and costly building regulations when less expensive and simpler alternatives make more sense.

  3. Chip Street says:

    Act first, tell us about it later. You know, the way NAHB does for staff self-interest. Rather than how it represents the membership.

  4. Tim Thornton says:

    Shocked and dismayed that apparently NAHB either has no editorial or content control of “The Magazine of The National Association of Home Builders” , (as the magazine’s front cover states) or was asleep at the switch. Inexusable in either case ! Let’s start with an explanation of how an article like this gets in the magazine , and then tell us how you keep this from happening again.

    • Lisa Laughlin says:

      I did have a question as to how the magazine is independent of NAHB editorial review, if it is in fact, the magazine of NAHB. I would love to hear the response from NAHB. Thank you.

  5. NAHB: The Fire Protection Research Foundation puts the average cost of a residential sprinkler system at $6,000.

    Average cost of Granite Countertops: $5,176.80 to $7,180.00

    Let’s outlaw granite countertops !! and install residential fire sprinklers or the NAHB can subsidize funeral expenses of those who are going to die in a residential fire.

    The economies of sprinkler avoidance have always been a tall tale. Any burn or respiratory injury that a requires admission to a hospital will cost many times the cost of a sprinkler system; ditto for the replacement of personal belongings and the cascade of other externalized costs associated with a builder’s upfront savings.

    Consider even the average cost of a funeral ($6,000-$7,000 nationwide) compared to the cost of a sprinkler system. You get the point.

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